SMSU student body leader looks back on tenure

MARSHALL – It hasn’t quite sunk in yet for Josh Anderson of Marshall, that he has graduated from college and in only four years – nowadays five years is the norm. He packed a lot in during those four years. He recently graduated with a business management degree with a political science minor and is the outgoing student body president at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Anderson worked with two Minnesota State Colleges and Universities chancellors, James McCormick and Steven Rosenstone, and three SMSU leaders – Dr. David Danahar, who retired as president in 2011; interim president Dr. Ron Wood and current president, Dr. Connie Gores. He also helped the university manage two budget crises.

Part of his duties as the SMSU student association president was to meet with the president weekly so he got to know each of them.

Anderson felt that Danahar tried to turn SMSU into “Princeton on the Prairie” and neglected the college’s rural roots.

“I’m a big supporter of liberal arts – we need that, but Danahar lost focus on our ag program,” he said. “As many good things as Danahar did, it killed me to see the ag department wither. You can’t forget your identity.”

Anderson said other four-year ag programs, such as the one at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., picked up the slack and saw an increase in its enrollment.

“SDSU has grown exponentially,” he said.

Anderson has a highly favorable opinion of Danahar’s successor, Wood, who served from 2011 to 2013.

“He did an outstanding job,” Anderson said. “He was more like a president than an interim president.”

Wood was “visible at volleyball and football games,” he said. “Danahar hardly would show his face around campus. Wood still comes to the campus. He still has his SMSU bumper sticker. He’s still committed to the school. We were very fortunate to have him. He started to recommit the university to agriculture. That’s the best thing he did.”

Anderson appreciated Wood’s leadership style.

“He was present and vocal at meetings, including us whenever he could, asking ‘what do you think?'” Anderson said. “He was well-liked.”

Anderson has gotten to know Gores as well in her short time as president.

“I’m very proud of where she has come in her first year as president,” he said. “She’s very committed to the organization. She has hired a new development leader, a new provost and two deans – four new staff members so far.”

Anderson was on the search advisory team that recommended Gores for the presidency.

“We sent two finalists to the (MnSCU) chancellor, and he made the final decision,” he said.

Gores was brought into an institution that was saddled with a budget deficit of $3 million.

“The deficit wasn’t her fault, but she handled it as best she could,” he said. “She’s done a very good job.”

Anderson got to know Gores during her frequent meetings with the executive board.

“I met with her weekly, and the transparency is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Sometimes those meetings got heated, but we got along very well. She’s very professional.”

Anderson is glad that Gores is supportive of agricultural programming.

“Wood got the ball rolling for more ag education, and Gores is continuing with that,” he said.

From working with fellow students, with MnSCU, SMSU administration throughout his college career he got to know the higher education system well. In addition, he worked at the admissions department as a work-study job.

“I toured students around campus,” he said.

Anderson also volunteered as a university ambassador for three years, giving up many a Saturday to give tours to campus visitors.

He was an orientation leader for two years.

“I did the most I could to recruit and retain students,” he said.

Some days, he said, he would get frustrated with the pace of progress.

“People would tell me you don’t have to solve all the problems,” he said.

Prior to coming to SMSU, Anderson said he hadn’t been interested in politics.

After doing well in an American government class – “I understood the national government, American history, the colonies, the forming of America,” he said – Anderson joined the student senate in his second semester as a freshman.

“It’s beneficial to have freshmen and sophomores in student government,” he said. “It’s nice to have a variety of perspectives.”

Then the vice president resigned in October of 2011, and Anderson was appointed in his place after which he won a special election. He served until May of last year when he became president.

“I’ve been in a leadership position the better part of three years – that’s uncommon,” he said. “Most students are lucky if they serve one. It’s unusual to be vice president after only one semester as a senator. It’s a job I took very seriously.”

Anderson is grateful for the leadership skills he developed working in student government at SMSU.

“It’s the best decision I’ve made,” he said.

Anderson said he has been told that this senate has been the most active since the 1970s.

“People knew us on campus,” he said. “We played hardball but garnered a lot of respect.”

People also told him his presidency was reminiscent of Marty Seifert’s, when he was the student body president 20 years ago at Southwest State.

Anderson currently is working for Seifert’s gubernatorial campaign. A member of the College Republicans, Anderson said he has followed Seifert’s career for years.

“He’s popular where I’m from, which is Springfield – the Sleepy Eye/New Ulm area,” he said.

Anderson knows he is fortunate to be working on a gubernatorial campaign and at such a young age.

“I’m very thankful,” he said. “It’s been rewarding. It’s not a money-making project, but I believe in Marty and I believe in Minnesota. I’ve developed a deep love for the state of Minnesota with all the traveling we’ve been doing.”